Rwanda’s entry into the Commonwealth serves as a vital source of various forms of technical assistance which is necessary to support the goal of political, social and economic development.
As a Rwandan taxpayer, perhaps you’ve rightfully asked why the government should spend your hard-earned tax dollars to have membership in certain regional or international organizations of such kind.
The answer is quite straight forward and simple. Belonging to such bodies, be it the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Commonwealth, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), or the World Trade Organization (WTO) etc, brings substantial benefits.
Membership serves to promote and advance Rwanda’s key interests. Most importantly, what Rwanda will get in return – and a lot cannot be quantified in dollar terms – far outweighs the relatively small amounts spent on membership.
Take the Commonwealth for instance. If you were to place a dollar value on the technical assistance and other benefits which commonwealth member countries has received since they joined, then you compare this amount with what these Governments have spent on membership during the same period, you would see that a really huge gap exists.
There are certain basic requirements which every country must meet to achieve the overriding goal of development, if it is to be in a position to satisfy the legitimate expectations of citizens for a continuous improvement in their quality of life.
Money tops the list, of course, but, equally important, is possession of the right know-how.
Generally speaking, developing countries are unable to meet such requirements on their own because vital resources are often in short supply. Membership of regional and international organizations, therefore, plays a critical role in providing opportunities for such fundamental needs to be met.
In the specific case of the Commonwealth and Rwanda, One of Rwanda’s interest in joining the Commonwealth is to target the economic benefits. With its present membership of 53 countries, the Commonwealth constitutes over 40 percent of the World Trade Organisation making it influential in global trade.
Commonwealth countries handle trade worth $2.8 trillion annually and with foreign direct investment outflows of $100 billion, which account for more than 20 percent of international trade and investment.
The 1994 genocide decimated Rwanda’s fragile economic base, severely impoverished the population and eroded the country’s ability to attract private and external investment. To tackle these economic problems the government has initiated a series of economic reforms resulting in Rwanda becoming the most reforming country in the World Bank’s doing business report of 2009 and is seeking to consolidate these gains through a series of innovative policies.
In order to achieve these goals, Rwanda needs to broaden its export base through a combination of investing in knowledge and skills creation amongst the Rwandan workforce and the generation of new markets for the end products.
Joining the Commonwealth will facilitate these processes by benefiting from the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation and Commonwealth Africa Investment Fund which helps in the promotion of socio-economic development hence aiding poverty reduction and promoting human and capital development.
Nevertheless the Commonwealth will quietly make a substantial contribution to national development over the future period by providing opportunities for Rwanda to acquire the right know-how.
Rwandan education system has recovered remarkably well, at least quantitatively. The most impressive aspect of the system’s recovery is the rapid growth of enrollments at all education levels and in some areas like Primary level the current gross enrollment ratio of 107 percent exceeds the corresponding ratio for the average low-income country in Africa today.
Rebuilding the stock of human capital is high on the government agenda and efforts were made to broaden access to education and to enhance the quality of services.
Rwandan universities have partnered with international universities in Europe, Africa, and USA in areas of lecturing and training new and existing teachers.
However, like most African economies, the Rwandan dream is challenged by insufficient resources like lack of qualified teachers and administrators, poor education quality with large class sizes, inadequate buildings, textbooks and laboratories as well as unevenly distribution of schools and pupils/students often have to walk long distances.
Through the Commonwealth Fellowship programme, for example, several Rwandans will have all university training expenses paid by commonwealth scholarship programmes in various disciplines pivotal to the country’s economic and social development.
Then, there’s the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), an initiative harnessing the new information and communications technologies, including the Internet, to deliver cost-effective university training through distance learning.
Under this initiative, several Rwandans will be in position to pursue studies leading to various degrees notably tourism management from prominent universities in this field like Canada’s Mount Saint Vincent University without having to leave home.
These would be a major strategic investment, considering the increasingly important role of tourism in the Rwandan economy among others.
At another level, the Commonwealth will facilitate the transfer of technology to Rwanda by making available various specialists to work on several important national projects.
These experts, whose services are usually made available through the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC), do spend a couple of months in the member countries providing technical assistance in various domains.
It’s in this domain that Rwanda would benefit from having technical assistance on several important projects.
The Commonwealth will also have an immensely positive impact on the development of Rwandese youth. Several young people in Rwanda will have an opportunity of participating in the Commonwealth Youth Programmes.
This will enhance their leadership and other skills as a result of participating in the Commonwealth Youth Programmes, hence effectively serving their communities.
There’s also the Commonwealth Games, the second largest after the Olympics, in which Rwanda youth will qualify to participate.
Joining the Commonwealth will open up new arenas for competition by the different sporting teams, strengthening the infrastructure within the country and so widening access for greater participation.
In return, Rwanda will generate important lessons in the power of sport to bring positive change and to bring people together that can be replicated in other divided societies.
As the majority of its members are small developing states like Rwanda, the Commonwealth serves as an important forum for them (small states) to take part in deliberations on crucial issues, reach a common position and exert a collective influence on world affairs.
The Commonwealth, at the same time, is actively involved in politics, promoting the best practices of democracy and good governance among its membership. Special emphasis is placed on promoting free and fair elections.
In most cases the Commonwealth, if invited by the country in question, dispatches a team of observers who will monitor voting proceedings and pronounce if the ballot was free and fair.
As testimony of its commitment to democracy, the Commonwealth today distances itself from any deviant member where military coups and other non-democratic means have been used to install governments.
It’s a tough, uncompromising stance compared to the 1970s when military dictators mingled with elected leaders at Commonwealth heads of government summits.
Good governance is one of the main objectives of the Rwandan Government as highlighted in her policy documents such as the country’s vision 2020, Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) and the Millennium Development goals (MDGs).
Wide-ranging reforms undertaken by the government include; the reorganization of the administrative divisions of Rwanda to decentralize power and create administrative units that were more ethnically diverse, strengthening of the rule of law, regular elections, constitutional democracy & supremacy of the constitution, independence and effectiveness of judiciary, accountability, checks & balance organs, anti-corruption measures and public sector reform.
Rwanda’s system of mandating female representation in decision-making bodies led to the election in 2008 of the only legislature in the world where women are in the majority.
In this, Rwanda will bring important lessons learnt to the Commonwealth for other countries under going transition and act as a model in terms of good governance and conflict prevention notably on how to apply own solutions to solve many problems.
However, despite progress, weaknesses in democracy and governance remain, including a weak civil society, low capacity of the media, reconciliation and improved technical capacity of government officials among others.
It is in these areas that the Commonwealth can play a vital role in deepening democracy in Rwanda and building upon what has already been achieved by supporting the government is finding a balance between the short-term and longer-term needs through technical support, control and monitoring mechanisms and capacity-building of both government and civil society to resolve conflicts by peaceful and democratic means.
On gender issues, Rwanda now ranks first in the global gender parity ratings, followed only by Sweden and Finland. This is illustrated most notably by the percentage of women in Parliament, totalling 49 percent and 44.4 percent.
Women have received training in order to equip them for decision-making positions at all levels of society to strengthen the role of women’s associations and civil society organizations. Gender issues are mainstreamed throughout government policies.
However, at the other end of the spectrum women are still facing many problems due in part to the legacies of the genocide and widespread use of rape as a weapon of war resulting in the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Incidents of extreme poverty are not only more common amongst women than men, but the severity of poverty is also higher amongst women. Rates of gender-based violence are also high.
Within the Commonwealth, Rwanda will act as a beacon of gender equality, highlighting what can be achieved in empowering women to participate in all areas of government and public office, whilst receiving assistance in diffusing this best practice to the community-level.